Difficult times in my life have been with issues that aren’t really talked about – alcoholism, domestic abuse and protecting my children from abuse. And because those subjects aren’t exactly topics for polite conversation, I often found myself either pretending to be okay or burrowing deep in my own space. The problem with those two choices is that when I came up out of my foxhole, I was alone. Either because I wouldn’t let people close, or because I had chosen to keep my troubles private.
These behaviors, putting on a happy face and isolating, created a vacuum of connection. And the lonelier I became, those habits kept tightening their grasp on me. A sad cycle that just kept spinning round and round. I wasn’t being my authentic self, nor was I talking about the really hard and painful things happening in my life. So I felt like a fake, and I felt completely alone. A perfect storm for the voices in my head, the ones that my ex had put there through years of highly focused psychological abuse, telling me this is what I deserved. That I wasn’t worthy of being understood, being supported, of being seen.
In 2016 my carefully constructed house of cards came crashing down. Even now, writing my story, I’m surprised by how it happened. Just when my life was getting better, hugely better, it all fell apart. I had met my now husband the year before, we were engaged, had moved into our dream house and were blending our family of 8 children. And then my destructive habits reared their ugly head. I could not cope with the vast expanse of reality that existed between this beautiful life I was creating and the worthlessness bubbling up inside. I felt like a fraud. I knew I didn’t deserve to be happy. Who did I have to confide in? To help me make a major course correction? No one. And not because there weren’t wonderful women in my life. I just hadn’t let them in, not in a long time, and I had allowed meaningful friendships to wither, untended by time and honesty.
An epic flame-out, in the pits of alcoholic despair, followed. I arrived at inpatient treatment, in June 2017, desperate to get better, for the pain to stop, the chaos to end and most of all to stop hurting myself and those I love. During those 30 days, I turned myself into a sponge, absorbing every bit of knowledge I could get my hands on. For the first time ever I began to see the connection between my past trauma and the choices I made to deal with my pain. I started understanding that honesty and transparency, above all else, would be required to stay sober and emotionally healthy. And I forgave myself, for the pain I had caused myself and my family. In that forgiveness and the ashes of the destruction of my life, I was freed.
No longer could I pretend to be okay, the humility required to enter inpatient treatment blew up that false belief. Nor could I ignore connection when I was required to attend 90 AA meetings in 90 days and speak to my sponsor daily. So I got to work, learning how to be authentic, finding myself again and working through my trauma. Slowly, very slowly, I began to feel like myself again – after feeling lost for a number of years. As the shame, despair and pain receded, a clear picture of who I was began to emerge. I could see Kate again. Alongside my individual work, I got comfortable around people again. It started in treatment, connecting with other women struggling with addiction, it was so refreshing to jump right into real conversations. That “realness” continued as I immersed myself in AA, found a home group, built relationships and showed up – every single day.
Connection, reaching out to others, showing up for friends, living authentically, is a must have in my rebuilt life. I feel fortunate that AA helped me build a new habit, learning to turn outward every single time I wanted to hide away. Gradually, my default setting changed from isolation to reaching out. I’ve learned over the last few years, that a visit, call or text not only makes me feel less alone, but it gives me a chance to be there for a friend. Connection re-enforces the feeling that I matter, have purpose and are valued. Humans are wired for connection, sometimes we just need to remind ourselves how important connection is for our wellbeing.